SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Are Kids Born with Grit…Or Do They Learn it?

There’s a major New York Times best-selling book that was published about two months ago, and it has the simple title of GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

The author is Dr. Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology  at the Univ of Penn who has studied this trait – grit — for several years.

Her book’s basic thesis –which clearly has great application in the world of sports, competition, and winning in both athletics and in life – is that those individuals who succeed in sports and in the real world have developed, or are blessed with, a sense of grit….and grit is all about Passion and Perseverance to make your goals come true.

To me, grit is defined as having that inner desire or drive to work ever harder at achieving one’s goals; to put more effort into succeeding than perhaps one’s peers, even if that means overcoming major adversity.

Now, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that we all want our kids to have a sense of grit in their lives, especially if they are aspiring athletes, or want to do well in school, or to succeed when it comes to their careers.

But I worry that the overall takeaway from the bestseller GRIT might be somewhat misleading. That is, that if your youngster is told that he or she needs to develop this sense of overachieving drive, then he or she can – and will — succeed in sports.

QUOTING DAVID DENBY OF THE NEW YORKER

I have touched on this point before. While developing a sense of drive, or grit, is certainly a positive element in one’s youth, I become concerned if a parent or a child buys into it to the point where:

  1. it becomes the overwhelming force in their child’s athletic development, and
  2.  they truly believe that by simply working harder at their sport, they will go on to earn a college scholarship and play pro ball.

In short, it just doesn’t happen that way in the real world. And that’s why grit and its role needed to be clarified for sports parents and youth coaches.

Ironically, I was reading a critique of GRIT a few days ago by David Denby of the New Yorker, and he picked up on this troubling takeaway as well. Denby, too, doesn’t buy into this pop psychology premise that if your child show some athletic promise — and if he or she works their tail off — then they ultimately prevail in sports.

Denby notes a letter to the editor to the New York Times Book Review which had given GRIT a positive review. I quote from Denby’s thoughtful column:

And what if a child has only moderate talent for her particular passion?

That’s the ultimate question every sports parent has to keep in mind. Mike Egan, a former member of the Marine Corps, wrote a letter to the Times Book Review in response to a positive review of Duckworth’s book. “Anyone who would tell a child that the only thing standing between him or her and world-class achievement is sufficient work,” Egan wrote, “ought to be jailed for child abuse.”

Well, that’s perhaps a little extreme, to be sure. But it’s an important point: That just having grit, and a desire to overcome adversity, and even to commit 10,000 hours to practice, is just not enough.

What an athlete needs beyond grit is actual, God-given athletic talent. Without that key ingredient, grit and hard work will only take your athlete so far.

And the vast majority of the callers on my WFAN radio this show this morning also agreed that the gift of grit, like pure athletic talent, is something a child is born with in their DNA. Like being born to grow to a certain size, or having a certain eye color, grit is part of that inherited package. True, as a parent, you need to explain to your child the importance of grit and the drive to succeed. But as so many parents have asked me over the years, “My kid has great natural ability…but doesn’t seem to have the inherent drive to push himself. What can I do?”

In my experience, there’s not much you can do. Great talent without an innate drive will only get your athlete so far.

LIVING UP TO ONE’S POTENTIAL

What’s my take? Yes, you let your athlete know that in order to master and perfect skills, they need to practice, practice, and practice….BUT that the overall goal is not necessarily to play pro ball, or to play college ball, but to play to the best of their God-given abilities.

That’s a big, big difference.

In other words, their God-given abilities may take them only as far as the local HS varsity….or a club team or intramural team in college….And that’s fine.

And it’s up to you, as their parent, to truly accept that….to be supportive and proud….and not to be disappointed.

 

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: HS Guidelines Should Be Mandatory, Not Just Voluntary

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back:

Michigan’s New Guidelines on Full-Contact High School Football Practices

By Doug Abrams

In an article by Ted Roelofs last week, Bridge Magazine reported about the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s new concussions guidelines concerning the permissible length of football teams’ full-contact drills. The new MHSAA guidelines maximum is 90 minutes per week.

The problem, noted by Mr. Roelofs, is that the guidelines are just that – guidelines. That is, they are voluntary. Remaining in place is the mandatory state rule, which sets a maximum of six hours of full-contact drills per week (an average of more than one hour a day in any week when a team practices daily before Friday night).

The article reports that Michigan remains out-of-step with several other states that mandate 90-minute weekly maximums, and even with a few states that mandate lower weekly maximums. These other states have reputations as high school football hotbeds, but their statewide activities associations doubtlessly recognize that adolescent concussions, and even repeated sub-concussive head hits, can leave student-athletes with irreversible short-term and long-term damage. Last year, a study published in JAMA [Journal of the American Medical Association] Pediatrics found that repetitive head trauma occurs more often in youth football practice sessions than in games.

Coaching Integrity

A MHSAA spokesperson told Mr. Roelofs that he does not foresee problems with the new guidelines because, he says, coaches understand the risks of head trauma and no Michigan high school comes close to conducting six hours of weekly full-contact drills. Writing in USA TODAY, however, Ben Rohrbach asks the obvious question: “When the Michigan High School Athletic Association recommends 90 minutes of full-contact football practice per week, but doesn’t actually restrict coaches from using all six allotted hours of full-contact drills in a week, you can’t help but wonder if teams will actually take their governing body’s suggestion seriously.”

In my years of coaching, I never met a coach who ever wanted to see any of his players suffer injury or ill health. But voluntary full-contact guidelines nonetheless leave the door ajar for coaches who might feel tempted to exceed them. A coach, for example, might feel frustrated during a losing streak, or overzealous in the days before a big game or the playoffs. When word gets around that one or more teams have exceeded the 90-minute guideline, the temptation for other teams also to inch toward excess might not be far behind.

Strength From the Top

In interscholastic sports and youth leagues alike, strength and wisdom must begin at the top, and not at the middle or bottom. In the absence of state legislative action, the “top” here is MHSAA, which could level the playing field with a weekly full-contact maximum of 90 minutes or less, mandatory for all school districts and all football teams in the state.

Player safety should not depend on self-restraint by individual local school boards, principals, athletic directors, or coaches. Nor should player safety depend on individual parents who demand more protective concussion standards for their own children. In a high profile sport such as high school football, taking an individual stand risks arousing the sort of local criticism that can make silence seem the easier path.

Ongoing medical research informs us that the stakes for young athletes are simply too high to forego meaningful safety measures that maintain the essential character of the game. The MomsTEAM Institute of Youth Sports Safety, for example, maintains a web-based Youth Sports Concussion Safety Center that for years has collected a downloadable treasure trove of informative articles and commentary written by leading experts in a variety of disciplines. Accumulated learning means putting the players first.

Lawsuits

Concussions damage actions are expensive, and they happen. I also wonder whether, by not joining several other states that have mandated 90-minute weekly maximums (or less), MHSAA unnecessarily weakens its position in any future negligence lawsuit that names the association as a defendant.

What if a concussed football player and his parents allege that the player’s team routinely exceeded the 90-minute voluntary guidelines while remaining within the association’s six-hour mandate? If I were MHSAA’s defense lawyer, I would much rather argue that the statewide association mandated best practices – the nationally emerging 90-minute mandated weekly maximum, or less — and not that the association condoned the team’s exceeding these maximums.

In damage actions, defendants tend to fare better when the judge or jury perceives them as acting within the mainstream. Perceptions help influence settlement negotiations, where most lawsuits terminate short of trial.

Some voices warn that concussion risks in contact and collision youth sports such as football may jeopardize the ability of high school programs and youth leagues to maintain affordable insurance, not only for players, but also for adults who conduct the competition. If the MHSAA spokesperson is right that none of the state’s high school football teams currently approaches the six-hour mandatory maximum, the voluntary guidelines bring jeopardy that seems avoidable and counter-productive – and dangerous.

 

Sources: Ted Roelofs, Bridge Magazine, June 16, 2016, http://bridgemi.com/2016/06/michigan-balks-at-rule-shortening-full-contact-practice-for-high-school-football/  Thomas P. Dompier et al., Incidence of Concussion During Practice and Games in Youth, High School, and Collegiate American Football Players, JAMA Pediatrics, http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2281575  (May 4, 2015); Ben Rohrbach, Michigan Recommends Less Full-Contact Football Practice, But Won’t Require It, USA TODAY High School Sports, June 17, 2016 (emphasis in original); MomsTEAM Institute of Youth Sports Safety, Youth Sports Concussion Safety Center, http://momsteam.com/health-safety/concussion-safety

FATHER’S DAY 2016: A Day to Salute Sports Dads Everywhere

Today is Father’s Day, and to help celebrate the day, I thought I’d ask you to take a moment and reflect upon what’s the very best piece of advice you ever received from your Dad when it comes to sports.

That’s right. What particular memory do you have of your Dad when he stepped up for you in your sports career. Maybe it was when you were down in the dumps, and he gave you a pep talk. Or perhaps it was at the height of your athletic career, and your dad was there to help you celebrate the moment.

Let’s face it — for the vast majority of Dads who are involved in sports today, or who played sports when they were kids, chances are that it was your father who not only introduced you to sports, but it was Dad who was there for you throughout your years as a kid, right through HS and beyond.

The bonding that takes place between Dad and youngster is well known. For many of us today, it’s truly a main part of our everyday way of life. Too many of us take all of this for granted, so do the right thing and give your Dad a call to say thanks, or give him a hug.

I’ll share one of the more memorable stories from my past and my Dad.

When I was in college and playing summer ball in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League – the ACBL – I dreamed of someday getting a chance to go to the next level – to play pro ball. But to do that, I first had to prove my worth in the ACBL, and the ABCL was – and still is – top competition. Top baseball players from top college programs.

In any event, one hot steamy summer afternoon we were playing out at a field at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Institute in Queens, NY. I was playing for a team based in Brooklyn, and I believe the opposing team was from Long Island. I was psyched to have a great game – especially because the opposing pitcher was a soft-tossing right hander who seemingly had nothing more than a big sweeping curve ball.

But on my first at-bat, amazingly, I struck out. Even more determined during my second at-bat, another series of curve balls fooled me and I struck out a second time.

My third at-bat? Another whiff. And by the fourth at-bat, I did everything to try and slap the curve ball the other way. No luck. I struck out for an unbelieveable fourth time. To this day, some 40 years later, I still can’t believe it!

Four at-bats….four strikeouts. The game ended with my brutal performance at the plate and  I was beyond inconsolable.

WHAT DID MY DAD DO?

On the long drive back home, my Dad didn’t say anything or bother me for a long, long time. He could see I was visibly upset, and he wisely just let me stew in my juices.

But as we approached home, my Dad said quietly to me: “You know, Rick, if you aspire to play professional baseball, you’re going to have to learn that baseball is a game based upon extreme frustration — built upon a layer of disappointment. That’s just how it is….and the rules are not just for you, but they apply to anyone who plays the game.

“The key is this….if you can somehow move past the emotional frustration of having a bad day….and then try to learn from what you didn’t do well….and then try to figure out a way to correct the issues, then you will be taking a giant step forward in terms of learning how to make adjustments in your game.”

He went further: “Amateur players throw bats and helmets when they get frustrated but pro ballplayers go about their business, and think about what they did wrong, and how to correct it. That’s a big difference between amateurs and pro’s.”

I’ll never forget those words of advice from my Dad, and as noted, that was some 40 years ago. Thanks Dad. I was lucky enough the following spring to be drafted by the Detroit Tigers after my junior year in college, and I played two years in the minors before deciding to retire.

Oh, and by the way. Just for the record, that pitcher with the sweeping curve ball? His name was Steve Ratzer, who turned out was a star pitcher for St. John’s University , and Steve ultimately made it all the way to the big leagues.

So, although I didn’t know it at the time, and I felt so miserable, I was striking out against a future major league pitcher.

Funny how things work out. But the paternal advice has never left me.

COPING WITH ADVERSITY: What Do You Say to Your Athlete When They Have A Bad Game?

You know what’s hard to do if you’re a parent?  When your athletic son or daughter has a tough game. And afterwards, you want to say just the right thing to boost their spirits.

But finding the right words, or knowing the right time to say something, is very, very hard.

Now — and this may sound incredibly obvious to many of you — but for starters, it’s really quite difficult to sit in the stands or to stand on the sidelines and watch your son or daughter perform during crucial moments of the game.

To be sure, if you’re like most Moms and  Dads, it’s both thrilling as well as totally nerve-racking to watch your son or daughter get up to bat in a baseball game in a close game…or go to the free throw line in a close game….or to be the goalie in a soccer match where the score is tied and the other team is threatening to score.

Of course, many parents simply release their anxiety by cheering loudly for their kid to do well. Or by saying quiet prayers that their kid will come through when the pressure is on.

Others, though, have a very hard time, They simply stand off to the side from all the others, and do their best to swallow their nervousness. They’re nervous for their child.

Of course, lots of former top professional athletes have noted over the years that it’s a lot tougher to be a parent and to watch one’s kid play — than to have played as an athlete themselves.

I feel the same way.

When I was a kid, I loved played sports. I was competitive. And I had success. But I got nervous before I played in games. Yet once the game started, I was able to turn the pre-game jitters into a focused drive to compete and play well. I felt confident of my skills during close games probably because I had devoted so much time to practice and more practice that I had built up a sense of inner confidence in my game.

But watching as a parent? Well, that’s tough. Whether it’s watching your kid compete in sports, or giving a speech in a school auditorium, or performing a key role in the school play, or giving a solo performance in a concert….you instinctively hold your breath, try to smile bravely and look positive, and hope that your son or daughter comes through.

And most times, they do. We then exhale, we smile, and we celebrate.

But what do you when they misfire?

They strike out. They let in the winning goal. They miss the key shot.  

First, your heart, of course, aches. But then, what do you say or do? When the game is over, and your child comes over to you, what is your response? What do you say? How do give them the pep talk, the magical words, they desperately crave that will make them feel better?

Do you simply tell them to “shake it off” and promise them they’ll do better next time?

That it’s only a game..and not to sweat it?

Any other clichés that come to mind?

Or do you take a different approach. Do you talk about those other plays of their game in which they did well? Or do you zero in on where they failed, and how they can work to get better?

Or do you say nothing at all, and let them fight through the disappointment?

If you have a child who plays sports, I guarantee that you have had to encounter this kind of situation at one point or another in your life.

As a parent, what do you say? What do you do when things didn’t go their way in the game.

Lots of callers had superb suggestions this AM on WFAN when focusing on this issue. Here’s a quick recap which you might find helpful:

o Always remind your athlete to “do their best.” If they give their best effort on the field, then they’ll  be better off when coping with disappointment. But remind them that in order to do their best, they need to prepare with practice, practice, and more practice.

o Sometimes, you have to give “a tip of the cap” to the opposing player or team. Nobody wins every game they play, and sometimes, on any given day, the opponent is a little sharper in their game than you are. Please remind your son or daughter that this does happen, and when it does, you need to salute the other team.

o Explain to your child that losing is a major part of any competition. Yes, everybody focuses on winning, but losing is just as common.

o Tell your child that the best way to benefit from a loss is to learn from it. Try and distill why one didn’t prevail, and what can be done to learn from those mistakes.

o Most of all, right after the game, there’s really no need for words. Give your child a good, solid hug, let their tears flow, and then get in the car to give them some privacy and to allow them to feel their disappointment. But later on in the day, check on them, and see if they want to talk at all. If they do, let them lead the conversation — not you.

COACHING TIPS: Learning The Japanese Way of Baseball

Rocky Pasquale has a most unusual job – a job in which he has been most successful.

For the last 15 years, Rocky has been the head coach at the Keio Academy, a HS in Purchase, NY, which is attended by Japanese students. In Rocky’s tenure, the Unicorns have won five Sectional championships.

That’s a most impressive overall accomplishment, considering that Rocky doesn’t speak any Japanese, and very few of his players speak any English. In addition, his teams tend to be considerably smaller in size than their American baseball opponents, so Rocky has tapped into his players’ ability to bunt, hit-and-run, suicide squeeze, throw strikes, and play solid defense.

“We speak the universal language of baseball,” says Rocky, “So for the most part, the language issue really isn’t a problem.”

This approach to “small ball” has worked very well for Keio. That, plus a cultural mentality that the “team always come first,” has led the Unicorns to great success. Coach Pasquale has fully embraced this style of play, which has become something of an anomaly in American sports these days where kids are so focused on their individual stats like their batting average or ERA.

Let me quote Rocky here: “It’s the unselfishness of playing a team sport. Culturally, that’s what they’re about. They’re not about the individual, and when you’re coaching a team, that’s huge. There are no egos out here and nobody is worried about their batting average or anything like that. If they haven’t done their job, they take it to heart and it hurts them. The unselfishness is the big thing which makes it great to work with these guys.”

Unselfish? Not concerned about their personal stats? Feel badly if they don’t get the job done? This is American baseball?

No, it’s Japanese baseball.

And it’s an approach that wins.

Some years ago, here in the US, kids approached the game in the same way. Lots of sacrifice bunts, know how to move the runner along, always be looking for a squeeze bunt. But these days, American players, in general, are exceedingly reluctant to bunt at any time, and as a consequence, they are not very good at it. In contrast, Rocky tells me that his kids are so good at bunting that he will often ask them to bunt with two strikes.

Rocky also tells me that his kids, who admittedly are from Japan and their parents aren’t around that much, rarely complain if ever about their kid’s spot in the lineup or their playing time. “I’m the envy of all the other HS coaches,” laughs Rocky, “The Keio parents never bother me.”

His players just win. They have little power. The team hit exactly one HR all season. They are smaller – his top pitcher this season was 5’8 and 130 pounds. But he threw strikes, rarely walked anyone, and changed speeds. His outfielders were quick and could run down long fly balls. His batters knew how to get on base and eventually score. And best of all, opposing teams knew coming into a game that they were going to be in for a real battle.

Think about this for a moment: a HS varsity team that wins championships by putting the team first, and one’s individual stats second. A team that knows how to play to its strengths. A team where the parents don’t interfere with the coaches.  A team where the kids are always respectful and always hustle on the field.

Sounds pretty good to me. I only wish more American HS teams (including kids and their parents) had the same kind of approach.

 

 

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: One HS Player’s Personal Story

The Life of The Concussed: One High School Players Account

By Elijah Rechler

“One Family, One Goal!” That was my high school football team’s motto. We were a tightknit group of brothers, and our goal was to achieve the highest caliber team both on and off the field. Each individual player felt an unwavering loyalty toward the rest of our unit. I did not care how many hits to the head I took or how confusing the play calls became: this was my team, my family and I would not abandon them.

Those were the thoughts that crossed my mind in the huddle right before the play that would end my eleven year football career. Three plays earlier I received the first out of many devastating hits that sent my brain flying into the front of my skull.

I played fullback on offense which meant my job was to block for the quarterback as he dropped back to throw the ball. Our quarterback’s name was Corey Goldglit, and although I gave him trouble for being a year younger than me, he was a member of our team and one of my best friends. As long as I was in that backfield and breathing, no one would touch him.

Corey snapped the ball from the center and dropped back, I was at his left hip and immediately saw a defender coming from the right side, head first, trying to spear my quarterback and possibly injuring him. Since I was on the opposite side of the defender, I would have been too late if I attempted a standard blocking approach, one that would have protected my head. Instead I made the quick decision to dive head first to the defender before he could spear

Corey. I felt a harsh vibration that rattled my helmet. My eyes lost focus and my entire body tensed up. My teeth clenched so hard that my molars bite right through the ends of my mouth piece.

After I landed, I distinctly remember hearing my helmet vibrating even as I lay motionless on the ground. The play was over, and Corey got the throw off. I did my job. One must understand that football players are not dumb. We know when we get hit in the head; we know when we should stop. We just don’t care. The team is more important. I had to keep going.

Play after play I received the same hit from the same defender in order to protect our quarterback. My coach screamed something to me from the sideline. I hear noises but not words.

Right as I came out of the huddle to what could have been a devastating event for my mind and body, I was saved by halftime. I waddled off the field and my coaches immediately noticed something was wrong. At first they thought I was overheating which led them to remove my pads. I then went on to tell them that I felt like I was going to throw up. My coaches and our trainer then understood that I had suffered a head injury. I was done for the day but my experience with brain trauma was just beginning.

As soon as I got home I developed a worsening headache. Within a few hours the presence of any light sent me into hysterics. I knew I had a concussion, but it felt like something much worse. With sunglasses taped over my eyes and my mom walking me hand in hand like an infant, I finally made it to the doctor the next afternoon. He took off my glasses and shined a light in my eye. It felt as if I stared directly into the sun. The doctor told me that I had suffered a serious concussion and should consider giving up football in order to prevent permanent damage.      Give up football for good? Absolutely not, I was going to play the following weekend. He told my mom and me that the more concussions one sustains, the less impact it takes for them to occur and the longer lasting the effects of the brain damage become. I didn’t know it then, but my doctor was describing the signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Still, I begged him to give me another chance on the field. He eventually relented and told me that if I spend a couple weeks at home he would consider letting me return.

I spent a week at home in complete darkness with no one around me, no TV, no reading, and no exercise. I was losing my mind because I was now feeling absolutely fine! Even though I was supposed to spend another week at home I couldn’t take it anymore. I was going to school on Monday. My first day back I was welcomed by my coach. We had a meeting in which he told me he was hesitant to ever let me play again. As I started to break down, he began comforting me by saying that to get another concussion could permanently alter my intelligence and my ability to be the person I am. Just as I was with my doctor, I wasn’t having it. I didn’t understand the effects that CTE could have on me. I was worried about breaking a leg or tearing my ACL, not about what was going on in my brain because I just couldn’t see it.

Just like every other football player in the world, all that mattered to me in that moment was getting on the field. Once again I was exceedingly persistent. Although my coach would not let me play the next weekend, if my symptoms remained dormant he would let me play in the game a week later. Unfortunately, the happiness did not last long. By the end of first period, I was laying on the floor of my 10 person English class with my backpack over my head, writhing in agony.

It was, of course, too early for me to return to school or football. I spent another week at home wondering how a headache could last so long. What I didn’t know then was that my brain was trying to heal, and every time I betrayed the process by going outside or to school I made the initial damage worse. Fortunately for me, I had people in my life telling me to slow down and let myself recover. Sadly, NFL players tend to have people telling them to do the opposite. When millions of dollars are at stake, football players will play every down no matter how damaged their brains are. The constant hits that they experience with no time for healing is what leads them to contract CTE, a deadly disease that causes aggression, confusion, memory loss, and destroys lives. I, however, am not an NFL player. I was forced to stay home for weeks until the headaches were unquestionably gone. Finally, the day came where I received both my doctor’s and coach’s approval to play in my last ever home game at night under the lights. It was time to rejoin my football family.

I was always nervous before games, but this time I wasn’t only nervous about messing a play or letting my team down. I was worried about the way my brain works, how I work through problems in a way that allows me to excel at my passions. What if another hit took that away from me? Is playing in this last game really worth giving up everything my brain has to offer? I stuffed the thoughts of concussions and CTE deep into the back of my mind. By the time the opening kickoff came around I was hyper focused on only one thing: I needed to win my last home game ever. As the rest of the team captains were injured, I was the last one left to be a designated leader in this game. It was up to me to take charge, to lead by example, and to be the person my coach believed me to be. I started the game on fire by scoring a touchdown, running for a hundred yards, keeping our defense alive and focused, and most importantly making sure my brothers had their heads in the game. Although we were losing, I was confident that we would be able to pull off the win.

Toward the beginning of the third quarter, Corey threw a high pass over the middle to one of our star players, Jalijah Daniels. If you follow football, you know that a high pass in that area of the field is extremely dangerous for a receiver. As Jalijah jumped up to catch the ball he was hit head on in the air by a defender. As Jalijah was slow to get up I turned to Corey and said, “Don’t you dare throw it high over the middle to me like that, you hear?” He gave his nod of consent to me. Unfortunately, things in football do not always work out as planned. About eight minutes later Corey had no choice but to throw me the same type of dangerous pass that had ended the game for Jalijah. As I jumped up in the middle of the field, I knew what was coming. Once again I did not care about the impending impact because I needed to catch this ball for the first down. Smack! I’m lifted by a defender and dropped. I knew it was a big hit because I could hear the home crowd yell in fear. As I got up I did not feel any pain. Yet,I was still horrified. I did not know whether or not I was hit in the head.

I went to the sideline and saw the look on my coach’s face. It was over. I was done. That was the last time I would ever play tackle football again. I started crying on my coach’s shoulder, and he began crying on mine. I was sad and angry but the truth is he saved my life in one way or the other. I never would have stopped if he hadn’t stopped me. That was the end of my story on the field. However, my interest in concussions and CTE has not relented ever since that first hit early in the season. Even today I often wonder if I am mentally slower than I was pre-concussion. I am for sure not slower in any way that is noticeable to the outside world, but only in a way that I only could notice.

Sometimes it is hard for me to remember names or dates. I feel like I can’t recall events or solve problems as quickly as I did in the past. It may just be because I am a busy college student filling my brain with facts and theories. However, there will always be a part of me that wonders if I had permanently hurt my brain for the game that I love. There is another part of me that is forever thankful to the people in my life that did not let me make it any worse.

Elijah Rechler is currently finishing his first year of college. He still loves tackle football, but no longer plays the game.

DEALING WITH FINANCIAL CONCERNS: Is the Selling of Naming Rights Okay?

This column has to do with the selling of naming rights to ballparks, athletic facilities, and so on.

Now, we all know that at the professional league, it’s become pretty standard fare for enterprising corporations to put up a lot of money to have their firm’s name branded on a  ballpark. Hence, we have, for example, in the NY-NJ-CT area, MetLife Stadium….or Citifield, places like that. Famous ballparks that have sold the “name” rights to their stadium.

It’s all about generating more cash, of course, and as a result, our athletic facilities have more commercialized.

In truth, think we’ve gotten to a point in our society where sports fans everywhere have pretty much accepted this as a way of life. That is, if an insurance company or a bank wants to put up millions of dollars to have their corporate name on a building, we’re okay with that. After all, this is professional sports, and pro sports are big business.

But let me ask you this…

Would you be okay if your local HS football stadium or your HS gymnasium or baseball diamond had its naming rights sold? Just like they do at the professional level?

This is not a case where a school district is simply dedicating a field or ballpark to honor the contributions of a beloved local coach or athlete. Instead,  this is where – and let me use a fictitious name here – where your local HS football field or basketball gym is officially re-named, say, Chico’s Bail Bonds Stadium.

Naturally, Chico’s Bail Bonds would have to pay a decent amount of money to do this. And in fact this selling of naming rights to HS facilities is becoming more and more common around the country.

Local schools say it’s an excellent way to generate revenue streams for the school district, that the monies can be used to help provide new equipment or other needs for the students. And besides, there’s already a lot of precedent for selling naming rights with local professional minor league or major league fields.

Of course, certainly when it comes to sponsoring youth league teams in our towns, like in Little League, we all know that local barber shops and deli’s or gas stations routinely put their company name on the kid’s caps and shirts to sponsor the team. Just like Chico’s Bail Bonds…from the movie, Bad News Bears.

So let me ask you this…..is there any downside to having your HS sell the stadium or gym or ballpark naming rights to a corporate entity….or is this actually a brilliant and smart idea?

I read recently where a public HS in Indiana sold the naming rights to its football field for $400,000 to a local bank. Other naming rights have been sold to a car dealership for the baseball field, the softball field to a law firm, and its concession stands to a tire and auto care shop.

My question to you….do you have a problem with this? Would you care if it happened in your school district? Or with money tight for sports these days, would you absolutely welcome this kind of economic development?

Now, remember, this has nothing to do with HS booster clubs, which are pretty much run outside the realm of the school board. Booster clubs, of course, are comprised of sport parents who raise money independently to help their kids who play HS sports….

But the naming rights to a school building or facility has to be approved by the school board. And if HS football fields have their naming rights sold, should we expect to see the HS auditorium, or science labs, or even the library or cafeteria carry a local sponsor’s name?

Callers this AM were mostly likely in favor of this trend, simply because school districts have so little money these days that any kind of financial stream is welcomed. We all knows that schools are constantly looking to cut back, not add services. And if an outside entity wants to pledge a lot of money to have their signage on a HS field, well, why not?

Of course the school board has to have the final say in all, so that the sponsors are all legitimate and above reproach. As one caller said, there’s a school district in NJ where apparently the name rights on the HS football field is by a local race track. The caller wondered if that made sense to have a horse track where people actively gamble made sense for a HS of kids under the age of 18.

Deep pocketed Sports Parents?

And while I think selling naming rights is fine, I can foresee some situations where things could get tricky.

Suppose a highly successful attorney pledges to buy the naming rights to the HS football field, putting up, say, $1 million to be paid over ten years. That’s great. His law firm’s signage would be on the stadium.

But also suppose the attorney has a son in 8th grade who aspires to be a starter on the football team, and the attorney is very eager to see his son’s dreams come true.

You see my concerns. You can practically anticipate what can happen next.

So, the bottom line is that the extra cash for naming rights is great, but it’s always essential for the school board to totally do it’s homework so that there are no potential conflicts in the near future.

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: More and More Youngsters Are Quitting Sports Because They Sense They’re Not Good Enough…

 A New Canadian Report Holds Lessons For American Youth Sports

By Doug Abrams

In early May, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) wrote a series of articles about Sport & Belonging, a new report that spotlights excesses that mark many youth sports programs in that nation. The report’s influence should not stop at the border because similar excesses mark many youth sports programs in the United States.

In both nations, many sports programs conduct travel or elite teams for players at younger and younger ages. Programs ramp up the pressure by creating longer seasons, and by dismissing greater encroachments on family life. Programs tolerate cutting or benching of youngsters judged less talented by coaches who are ill-equipped to make such profound judgments about elementary school children. Pressure leads some parents and coaches toward confrontation, violence, or other misconduct. About 70% of youth leaguers quit by the age of 13, often burned out from too much adult pressure imposed too early.

Pressures on Youth Leaguers

The new report was prepared by Vital Signs, in partnership with the True Sport Foundation. (Vital Signs is a network of more than 190 community foundations devoted to enhancing the quality of life throughout Canada; the True Sport Foundation advances fairnessexcellenceinclusion, and fun as the core values of sport for Canadians of all ages.) The report’s researched findings about the nation’s youth sports programs include these:  

3 out of 4 children and youth ages 5-17 are active in sport, but participation rates peak at age 10 to 13 and then decline steadily and dramatically with age”;

In Canada and globally, 5- to 19-year-olds say lack of enjoyment, feeling they are not good enough to play and an increase in family and intrapersonal stress were the most common reasons for dropping out of sport”;

“[T]he most important factors in sport drop-out rates include lack of fun, stress, too much competition and negative coach or parental behavior.”

Sport & Belonging also reported that a bulk of Canadians believe that the nation’s youth sports programs give short shrift to values. “4/5 believe that promoting positive values in youth should be a priority for sport in Canada, but fewer than 3/5 believe community sport currently reinforces them.” Not only that, but “almost three-quarters (73%) of Canadians say children’s sport has become too focused on winning at the exclusion of fun and fair play.”

Pressures on Parents

CBC Sports writer Jamie Strashin places much of the blame on an environment that leads kids as young as eight to quit because “they think they’re not good enough” when they are cut from a travel or elite team that is driven by “the hyper-competitive environment that lords over most youth sports.” A North Vancouver youth soccer coach told CBC News writer Gavin Fisher that scheduling too many practices and games can kill many kids’ passion for sport by the time they reach their early teen years. “If your child is playing more games than an NHL player,” says the coach, “you seriously have the balance wrong.”

Sport & Belonging also finds that youth sports can exact a heavy toll on Canadian parents themselves. Despite the demonstrated benefits of lifelong physical exercise, sports “[p]articipation rates for adults are dropping in every province,” and “7 out of 10 Canadians aged 15 and older . . . do NOT participate” actively in sports at all. Among the nation’s adults, the shift “from player to spectator at amateur events . . . almost doubled from 24% to 40%” from 2006 to 2010.

A suburban Toronto physician offered Strashin this reason for the drop: “People often tell me, ‘Doctor, I don’t have time to exercise. I’m too busy taking my kids to sports. . . . The emphasis on kids’ sports has completely wiped out parents’ ability to keep themselves healthy.”

The “Youth Sports Arms Race”

By spotlighting the physical and emotional toll on players and parents, Sport & Belonging raises provocative questions about the potentially harmful effects of the escalating “youth sports arms race.” Many parents today are too young to remember the Arms Race that pitted the United States against the Soviet Union during the Cold War from 1945 until the Soviet state dissolved in 1991. The Arms Race was fueled by mutual fear of falling behind. When one nation built X nuclear warheads, the other nation would respond by building X+. Year after year, each nation would continue stockpiling more armaments to maintain perceived superiority.

Many adults today similarly fear that “if the next town’s team played 40 games for six months last year, our team had better play 50 games for seven months this year, or else our kids will fall behind.” Or that “if Johnny and Susie down the street get expensive private coaching, then our Billy and Mary must get it too, and maybe for more hours a week.”

Youth sports seasons can consume six months or more, plus playoffs and tournaments. “The big machine doesn’t stop eating until it has chewed up all twelve months of the calendar year,” says former NBA player Bob Bigelow, who has spoken about youth sports reform to audiences in the United States and abroad for nearly 30 years.

Many youth teams play too many games. In my 42 years as a youth hockey coach, our teams never played more than about 30 games in seasons that ran from early October to the first week or so in March, including playoffs in many of those years. I doubt that playing 60 games rather than 30 would have produced players twice as talented. The Law of Diminishing Returns suggests that a 53rd game would not have honed skills, but that it would have encouraged burnout, increased the risk of overuse injuries, and intruded unduly on academics and other aspects of family life that the parents also valued.

With about 70% of kids dropping out of sports by the age of 13, our youth hockey program’s negligible or non-existent dropout rates each year (even among teen players) suggested that our robust but reasonable game schedule “kept the fires burning.”

Over-indulgence comes with a price. In his excellent book, Just Let the Kids Play, Bigelow quotes former San Francisco Giants baseball player, Erik Johnson:  “I see a lot of burnout. It used to be high school, but now it is ten-, eleven- and twelve-year-old kids. The kids get fried.”

A More Wholesome Balance

The new Vital Signs report comes on the heels of polling data that suggests that many American parents would welcome a more wholesome balance between their children’s organized sports and other aspects of family life. For example, a nationally representative poll of parents, released early in 2014 by espnW and the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society Program, found that “seven in ten parents have concerns about both the time commitments and rising costs of participation in youth sports.”

The espnW-Aspen poll reaffirms findings reported a year earlier in a poll conducted by the online market research company uSamp at the request of i9 Sports, a youth sports league franchise that stressed one-day weekly commitments, local play without long-distance travel, and focus on fun.

Sixty-eight percent of mothers responding in the uSamp poll said that their children’s youth sports involvement causes stress in their lives; 51% said that this involvement causes stress for the whole family. Twenty-four percent of mothers said that this involvement causes conflict with their significant other, and 24% said that they have resented their children because sports consumes too much time.

Of mothers who reported sports-induced stress, 87% blamed scheduling conflicts, including five-night-a-week commitments. Sixty-seven percent cited cost, and 53% said that their children’s sports deprived the family of holidays, weekends and free time. Seventy-six percent said that they are happy when the sports season is finally over.

A Silent Majority?

Rick Wolff reported on recent shows that, according to the Wall Street Journal and other sources, participation by 6-12-year-olds in team sports has declined since 2008 in the United States. No one reason alone likely explains the decline, but perhaps growing numbers of kids are turning their backs on artificial pressure as growing numbers of parents see youth sports moving in an essentially unhealthy direction.

When a hesitant parent sees other families fueling the youth sports arms race, the parent may feel guilty about being the “only” one who considers saying no. Each family must reach its own decisions about participation, pressure, burnout, and family balance. But polling data suggests that parents who want to slow the arms race have plenty of company. In some places, these parents may even be the Silent Majority.

Postscript. . . . Sport & Belonging also warrants attention because it stresses reforms designed to open sports to children other than ones discussed in this column, who have had the opportunity to participate. These reforms, also described by the Aspen Institute and other thoughtful American sources, include overcoming the chronic under-representation in the youth league ranks of such children as girls, at-risk youth, youth with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, and children from low-income families. In the United States and Canada alike, parents and coaches and league administrators should take these reforms seriously.

 

Sources: Vital Signs, True Sport Foundation, Sport & Belonging 6, 7, 16 (2016); Gavin Fisher, Too Many Practices and Games Are Killing Youths’ Enthusiasm For Sport, Coach Says, CBC News, May 11, 2016; Jamie Strashin, Why Your Kids’ Sports May Be Bad For Your Health, CBC Sports, May 11, 2016; Jamie Strashin, No More Joiners: Why Kids Are Dropping Out of Sports, CBS Sports, May 19, 2016; Bob Bigelow, Tom Moroney & Linda Hall, Just Let the Kids Play: How to Stop Other Adults from Ruining Your Child’s Fun and Success in Youth Sports (2001), pp. 97, 113; Tom Farrey, ESPN Poll: Most Parents Have Concerns About State of Youth Sports, espnW.com (Oct. 13, 2014); i9 Sports Survey – Moms Stress Over Sports (2013); Brooke de Lench, Balancing Sports and Family: 13 Tips for Parents, http://www.momsteam.com/successful-parenting/balancing-sports-and-family-13-tips-for-parents .

 

DANGERS OF THROWING TOO MANY FASTBALLS: A New Study Suggests Max Effort Causes Injuries

Last week, as you may recall, I interviewed Jeff Passan, the author of new bestselling book, THE ARM. And if there was one major takeaway from that show, it was that the world of pitching —  and trying to prevent arm injuries —  has never been more complicated.

And now, in yesterday’s NY Times, there was yet a new report released: – a study from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit – which had these conclusions:

> About a quarter of all current major league pitchers have had Tommy John surgery. No matter how look at that stat, that’s a lot.

> And that this new study says that serious arm injuries  are due to throwing too many fastballs.

But there’s an important key here that should not be overlooked. It’s not that just throwing too many fastballs is the issue. Rather, this has to do with pitchers throwing fastballs at their maximum effort, regardless of whether they top out at 95 mph or 85 mph or 75 or whatever. In other words, all that matters is that they were throwing with their maximum effort, not just that they were throwing fastballs.

I think that’s a very important distinction which may get lost in media translation. Let me quote:

“Pitchers who throw at their maximum speed, whatever that speed is, they’re hurting their arms…”

That comes from Dr. Robert Keller, the leader on the study. And it’s significant, because he’s saying, in effect, that your son is throwing as hard as he can all the time in games, he’s running a good chance of getting hurt. That’s opposed to young pitchers learning how to change speeds with their fastballs, or to pace themselves during the course of a game, and only unleashing a full max pitch every so often.

And to me, that makes a lot of sense. That’s big takeaway….coaches need to openly remind young pitchers NOT to throw every fastball at max effort.

WHAT ABOUT CURVE BALLS?

It also suggested in this study that throwing curves DOES NOT make a difference in arm injury – at least among major leaguers. But Dr. Keller also added said that these findings DO NOT apply to LLers because their mechanics of throwing curves are not well developed or honed at young ages. In other words, he sidestepped the issue of whether curves may hurt young arms since he was only studying the data of major league pitchers.

I think that’s significant as well.  And until Dr. James Andrews changes his stance on the dangers of throwing curves until you’re old enough to shave, I would caution your kids not to throw curves.

DANGERS OF THROWING CURVE BALLS: An Interview with Jeff Passan, Best-selling Author of THE ARM

Over the years, I have received lots of requests from my WFAN listeners regarding booking guests for this show, but I have to admit, I received more requests for a book called THE ARM than for any other author.

THE ARM, which is subtitled Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports, is a fascinating, definitive, and stunning look at major league baseball and its obsession with not only scouring the world for young pitchers who throw 90-100 mph, but it’s also a detailed look at how fragile these young arms are, and are so susceptible to injury — especially Tommy John surgery.

The book is written by Jeff Passan, who by day is a popular baseball columnist for Yahoo Sports. THE ARM It’s a frightening, fully investigative work, and should be mandatory reading for any parent, coach, or kid who aspires to pitch in baseball.

I had so much ground to cover with Jeff on the show that I pre-taped the show this week. For starters, I asked Jeff why is there so an obsession these days for scouts to find pitchers who throw 90-100 mph. That is, it wasn’t that long ago that top pitchers in the majors, like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, won by changing speeds, hitting corners of the plate, and fooling batters. Even knuckleballers don’t throw hard.

Jeff answered this rather bluntly. “In truth, it’s a lot of hard work to develop a pitching style like that — to change speeds and fool hitters.  It’s just much easier these days to find a kid who throws hard.”

I have to admit that I think there’s a lot of truth in Jeff’s assessment.

WHEN WILL LL BASEBALL WAKE UP?

But more than that, I drilled him about the dangers of kids throwing curves. Even in his book, on page 262, he quotes Dr. James Andrews, the noted surgeon when it comes to arm injuries, saying once again that “kids shouldn’t throw curve balls until they’re old enough to shave.” In my world, that means around 14 or 15 years old.

But as I have observed for years, kids in LL Baseball throw curves by the time they’re 10, and especially are on display in the LL championships. This is in direct conflict with Dr. Andrews’ advice – even though he’s on the LL Advisory Board – and his wise advice is even posted on the LL website.

LL Baseball in the last few years has tried to pivot away from this issue, and now says that kids hurt their arms by throwing too much at full max. Everybody knows that and agrees with that – that’s not news – but to ignore the curve ball concern seems ludicrous and dangerous.

Passan said he was planning to meet with the LL Baseball folks in Williamsport soon to try and get them to finally provide some clear and straightforward advice for parents and coaches and kids. Here’s what I would personally recommend:

Tell kids NOT to throw every pitch at full max power. That’s a sure fire way to hurt your arm at a very early age, and will lead to surgery.

Tell kids NOT to throw curves or sliders until they are 14 or 15 and their arms have had a chance to grow and be stronger and become more developed. If Dr. Andrews is telling the world about the dangers of curves, and he does more Tommy John surgeries on teenagers than anyone, I would believe him — not LL Baseball.

Tell parents whose kids have a strong arm to be judicious about how many days they pitch in a row for various teams. Pitch counts are smart, especially if kids are attempting to throw hard each and every day. 

Finally, I happened to stop by the local HS baseball field yesterday afternoon, and a kid from Rye HS named Kirby was pitching. 6-4, 190 lb, smooth-throwing righty. And not surprisingly, there were half a dozen major league scouts in attendance to see this young man. All the scouts had radar guns, and on each pitch they would note the speed (fastballs were reaching 90 mph), and then they would write the speed down in their notebooks.

By all consensus, this pitcher will be a top draft choice – mainly because he has a gifted arm. I just hope somebody in pro ball teaches him how to really pitch, e.g hit spots, change speeds, and develop a change-up.